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Merchants burned by RNC skeptical of Bollywood promises

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Published:   |   Updated: February 6, 2014 at 06:57 AM

TAMPA — Some downtown merchants say they’ll believe it when they it — all the predicted business flowing into town with the 30,000 visitors expected for the so-called Bollywood Oscars in April.

Many of them are still smarting from the disappointment of the Republican National Convention — an estimated 50,000 visitors over one week in late summer 2012, but many of them sealed away from restaurants and shops by the fences, guards and weaponry that come with an official national security event.

Even the regulars stayed away.

“No one came here. We were led to believe that business would be good, but it was not,” said Eftechios Xanthoudakis, owner of the Samaria Cafe located on Tampa Street’s 500 block. “Instead, we lost money here.”

“We’ve heard this all before,” said Fred Castro, owner of Spain Restaurant & Toma Bar.

The RNC produced an economic impact for the area of $404 million, according to a University of Tampa study.

But Castro was giving away perishables such as tomatoes and lettuce when the RNC rolled out of town.

“It was a terrible week,” he said.

Their spirits might have been lightened had the merchants along the 500 block Tampa Street attended a panel discussion this week on what to expect from the Bollywood Oscars — formally known as the International Indian Film Academy Weekend & Awards, to be held in Tampa April 24 – 26

It will be far different logistically from the RNC. Downtown will be accessible.

That was the message from speakers such as Santiago Corrada, CEO of the tourist development group Visit Tampa Bay, and Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham. The discussion Tuesday night was sponsored by Ad 2 Tampa Bay, a networking group for young advertising professionals. “It isn’t a national security event,” Corrada said. “There is going to be a lot of pedestrian activity. We’re hoping that means big dollars for downtown.”

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Also differentiating the Bollywood Oscars from the RNC will be the type of crowd it brings.

Political conventioneers had their share of fun in Tampa, but it was a business trip first and foremost. Their days were regimented. Some, said Corrada, had every minute planned from breakfast to late night parties. He acknowledged that unless a downtown business booked an even beforehand, it might have lost business.

The Bollywood crowd, on the other hand, is here to have fun on a looser schedules.

Higginbotham speaks from experience. He attended the 2013 Bollywood Oscars in Macau, China, and observed that the bulk of out-of-towners were families who made that weekend their vacation.

“One family I spoke to didn’t have tickets to the events,” Higginbotham told The Tampa Tribune later. “They traveled to another country to see the stars walk by.”

Added Corrada, “The crowds will resemble those you see in downtown for the thespian and music conventions. They will be out and about and in festive moods.”

Downtown is expected to enjoy a spike in activity even before the festivities kick off.

A pre-party that’s free and open to the public will be held in downtown’s Curtis Hixon Park the evening of Wednesday, April 23. Called IIFA Stomp — for the film association’s acronym — it will feature Indian DJs who will provide Tampa with a taste of the Bollywood music to be heard throughout the weekend.

Parimala Chari, a project coordinator for the film association, called it a “free flowing fun party” where people can come and go as they please. Some may find their way to restaurants and businesses across Ashley Drive.

Also planned around Tampa are a two-day business forum at the Tampa Convention Center and a concert and fashion show at the USF Sun Dome.

The Bollywood Oscars ceremony, which requires tickets, is at Raymond James Stadium.

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Downtown can expect added business even when attention is elsewhere in Tampa during the festival.

“The headquarter hotels are all downtown,” Corrada said. “A lot of people will be staying there.”

Headquarter hotels are those booked by stars, filmmakers and the film academy staff. Even those unable to book one of the 2,971 rooms available in downtown’s nine full service hotels will find their way downtown, Corrada said, to catch a glimpse of the celebrities.

“We’re expecting a lot of downtown activity,” he said.

He stopped short of promising increased sales.

“I can’t promise anything,” he said. “But I hope and feel confident.”

Tampa Street’s 500 block remained skeptical.

“I think because of the RNC our expectations are a little better,” said Bob Carr, owner of Moxie’s Café. “No one is going to go overboard like last time and bet all their marbles on a great weekend. If it is better than normal, great.”

At Samaria Cafe, Xanthoudakis takes the same approach. Any increase in business is good. And there’s the Tampa exposure that will come from an international TV audience estimated at 800 million.

“I’m ready,” he said. “Bring it on.”

pguzzo@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7606

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